Two weeks from today, I’ll be Piazzoll-ing and Vivald-ing about London with Fifth Quadrant, for my first ‘minitour’ – a set of concerts that will in due course become a twice-annual tour. For now, it’s confined to London, but you can also catch us online via a webcast (of course).
The London dates are:
Wednesday 16th May – Piazzolla at Classical Revolution (Soho), plus a brand new piece by cellist and composer Matthew Forbes
Friday 18th May - Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Music and the City (Waterloo)
Sunday 20th May - Highlights of all the above (Vivaldi, Piazzolla, Forbes) in a lunchtime event at The Forge (Camden)
Tickets are now on sale for all events! Just click on the links above.
Do you regularly visit a place far away from home?
After about the fifth or sixth time, something really strange happens: The 'foreign' place suddenly seems like a second home.
It's as if there's a threshold of time after which point the volume of memories you have invested in a place gives it a tangible sense of no longer being foreign. Your identity meshes with the location. It feels like a home.
There's another phenomenon too: when you're working regularly with the same team of people but you don't see them (and they don't see each other) for long periods of time, it's like you never went away. We will pick up on things as if we had barely been away for a day or two. I've seen this happen several times and it's not a coincidence.
I'm in Palestine again, for the annual Baroque Festival of Al Kamandjati, the music center in Ramallah with which I am associated.
Last year I didn't blog, but though I can't post daily, I'll try and write a couple of stories to give you a bit of insight into the reality here on the ground in the West Bank.
The territories are actually full of fantastically warm and generous communities, and it's really not at all the foreign and scary place that Western news media would often have you think.
I haven't been blogging my current trip to Palestine*, where the Al Kamandjati Camerata has been touring a Baroque programme throughout the country, but my experiences on this winter's journey have been just as fascinating, hopeful, hopeless and colourful as ever.
As well as a full selection of music for strings and solo instruments by Handel, Bach, Boyce, Telemann, Quantz and Fasch , I was also playing part of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and it was a joy to perform as far afield as Nablus (so much more secure than last year), and Shaf'am, a mainly Arabic town in the north of Israel, as well as the usual haunts: Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jerusalem, and other cities.
Unlike last year, we didn't have permission to enter the Gaza Strip, and unsurprisingly so: the situation there has deteriorated disgracefully at the time of writing, and the end of the latest ceasefire last week has only confirmed the continuation of hostility that never genuinely ceased.
But for all the terrible realities, other things improve relentlessly. It's very moving to come back again to the same place – I have indefinitely committed to returning twice a year for festivals in December and in the summer – and see the young Palestinian musicians so much further advanced in maturity and skill. There is phenomenal promise in these lands, and although the future will never be bright until a lasting peace is assured, it is realistic to hope that when it does finally happen, a new generation will be ready to realize its potential.
As well as some fairly large scale concerts in Ramallah and Jerusalem, working with the renowned singer Waltraud Meier and the brilliant Jerusalem Symphony oboist Demetrios Karamintzas, we also toured extensively in communities such as Jericho and Bethlehem, where audience development is less about attracting people with an existing interest in music than effecting a wholesale transformation in the attitude of the community, and inspiring focus and concentration in listeners to increase their cultural awareness and quality of life.
This being Palestine, everything is tinged with a wildness that is absurd to a foreign visitor. More than once we were left in complete darkness mid-piece owing to power failure (candles and mobile phones to the rescue!), and the post-concert headcounts of the childrens' choir were legendary 'anyone not here? OK, let's go!'
Palestinian contempt towards the formalities of military checkpoints might seem superficially like the harbouring of a death wish, but closer examination reveals a healthy black humour that is as inspiringly dogged as it is cathartic.
It was heartening too to talk to our Palestinian colleagues (or by now I should probably say friends), and to really reach a deep understanding of their political views. I find that beneath the panoply of conflicting opinions on the political situation – on which every one of us often disagrees – there is a deep rooted focus on freedom and peace that transcends any political arguement. More than once I heard Palestinians give sensible, logical advocations of a one state solution, but when pressed by me as to how they would feel if peace did eventually erupt in the shape of two states (for I believe, as do many, that Israel agreeing to a one-state agreement is about as likely as the celestial teapot being proven to exist!), gave incredibly eloquent answers that rose beyond personal belief. Their attitude: that ultimately peace and freedom are the important goals, and that those people not actively involved in shaping the political process should focus not on the political theories of tomorrow, but on the practical aspirations of today; seeding the creative thought, dialogue and tolerance that will educate the next generation to cope constructively and peacefully in an unknown future.
It's worth repeating again the fundamental idea that it is often impossible to break down oppressive structures (literally or metaphorically!), and that the only way to overcome them is to build something positive from the grassroots that grows so influential that the old order is made obsolete. There comes a moment – a tipping point, Malcolm Gladwell would say – when mass awareness that something needs to give comes into being. And when that tipping point happens, change comes very quickly. History proves this: from the fall of the Berlin wall to the death of the record industry (and subsequent re-emergance of the music industry) and even the phenomenon of Barack Obama's rise to power, it's a reliable pattern for making insurmountable problems dissolve themselves.
I was in the office in Ramallah, articulating these ideas to one of the guest artists, when Ramzi walked in, and caught the end of my explanation. 'Exactly', he said, with his characteristically devious smile, and a glint in his eye.. 'It is exactly what I try to do.' Ramzi 'gets it', and so do so many others in the Palestinian education, culture, business and NGO sectors. I hope with all my heart that the same shift of awareness is happening in Israel too.
It can be argued that the imprisonment and psychological repression of the Palestinian people shares many methodological similarities with the injustices of the iron curtain, apartheid, and racial discrimination of the 20th century. It would not surprise me if it ends in a similar, peaceful way – but it will still take decades to happen. That's the positive scenario. If the current 'two steps forward one step back' approach continues, peace in the Middle East will take another hundred years or more to arrive. But it can happen, and it will happen, however long it takes.
*Yes yes yes, I know it's officially the 'Occupied Territories'. I call it Palestine to make the point, don't write in.
Photos by Kerry Olson. Baroque Festival image copyright Al Kamandjati.
My new commute takes me along Friedrichstrasse, from the south end of the street right the way past Checkpoint Charlie and into the centre of Berlin, following the line of the U-Bahn.
This was one of the lines with 'Ghost Stations ', the mothballed underground stations in Eastern territory where West-Berlin trains didn't stop, but just passed through on their way.
But those stations were never blocked up, or even altered. DDR guards just sat there in turn, rigidly guarding the empty platforms, glowering in the gloaming, as West Berliners glided past in their brightly lit U-Bahn trains. When the stations finally opened up again in 1989, they were like little time capsules; even the 1960s adverts on the Walls hadn't changed.
I finally found time to visit Haus am Checkpoint Charlie , the famous museum that itself played a part in the 28-year drama of this most famous of crossings. I found the pictures of the late 1980s crossing-buildings especially interesting; they resemble more an English Channel ferry terminal check-in than a scarily disputed international border, and that approachability is disconcerting.
Disconcerting, because the everydayness of the architecture attempts to normalize something that is simply unnormalizable by others' standards.
The DDR was speaking to the west, in the language of the west, in order to say something entirely not of the west.
In music, that's called pastiche, and it has its place. But that place is not at the centre of a movement, or a the cusp of change. It's not a forward movement, it's a functional movement. What is function without forward direction? Stasis? I always think it ironic that Stasi Is one letter short of stasis .
What baffles me about the DDR is the state quest to instigate emotional stability…through repression! (and perhaps for some, oppression …). By imposing these 'functional' systems and strategies through social and civic planning, they endeavoured to create a framework of limitation that prevented self-expression and kept the peaceful majority submissive and benign.
But how can you possibly 'impose' emotional stability onto something and think that it will last? All you do by attempting to bottle something up, is increase the pressure on the inside. At some point, the lid will be blown off. So it proved in the American Deep South, and in South Africa, and in Berlin.
And that's why divisive walls always come down… Even if it takes a hundred years.
Talking of which, I'm going back to Palestine later this month…
We played a concert in the Centre for Jerusalem Studies in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. The venue itself was a derelict spa awaiting restoration, and a beautiful underground space (if horrendously dusty!). The centre staff decorated the hall with candles and some kind of incense. A special atmosphere is very easy to create in Jerusalem! (Though no less easy to ruin with cellphones and loud talking than any other venue…)
There's something in the air. Ramallah is much more awake than it was a year ago. It's very subtle, but it's noticeable. Leisure facilities are open that weren't before. Trading is fractionally busier. New restaurants have opened up. Prices are higher (though fuel counts for a lot of that). The expat community and the business community mingle more. There's more order in the streets. Tiny signs, but good ones. Of course, all that can change in a moment.
However routine and normal and environmentally damaging air travel becomes, it will never lose its magic for two reasons. Firstly, for every second of the journey, your life is in someone else's hands. But secondly, you cannot help but realize how small and meaningless you are. It's so deeply humbling to see massive amounts of stuff below you. And so uplifting to gain a 'real' sense of perspective.
Every time we step into an aeroplane it is a privilege, and it always will be.